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Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:12 AM


I found an interesting article. Anyone who wants to chip in certainly can, it's a free country!! But this particular author is writing from a Christian perspective, so I was wondering, particularly from the Christians, what do you think of this guy's perspective?
(I would post this in a religious group or something to avoid upsetting others, but for all intents and purposes those groups seem dead right now.) The article will be in the next post.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:36 AM

BTW, I make no claim that I agree with the author!!! It's just a post (so far).

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:36 AM

Capitalism Is Not Always Beneficial

The Basic Assumptions of Capitalism

First, capitalism assumes the economic system works best if each person pursues his or her selfish good, that is, the greatest profit. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith proclaimed the principle of the 'invisible hand': "Every individual, in pursuing only his own selfish good, [is] led as if by an invisible hand, to achieve the best good for all...."

Second, the profit motive drives economics. The only basis for making economic decisions is what brings the greatest profit.

Third, in order to make economic decisions, everything must have a price, including human labor. "Money ... provides the measuring rod of values."

Fourth, decisions about whom to produce things for are determined by supply and demand, by relative income. The distribution of goods and services, therefore, is determined by the distribution of private wealth.

Fifth, wealth is primarily private property. "'Capitalism' got its name because ... capital or 'wealth' is primarily the private property of somebody—the capitalist." The output of a business (after market-determined wages are paid) belongs to the "owner" of the capital.

These assumptions may or may not be the best ones upon which to build an economic system. In fact, most modern economists recognize their weaknesses, and most Western economies are significantly modified forms of capitalism. I'd like to explore how these assumptions have invaded our basic ideological and spiritual framework, affecting us to the point where they have become our new religion.

Selfishness as a Goal?

It is worth, then, revisiting the principles laid out in the Samuelson text with a critical, contemporary eye. How might they have affected our spirits? How might we root ourselves again in biblical perspectives?

Take the first—Adam Smith's "invisible hand." In effect, Smith said that if we were steadfastly selfish in our economic decisions, the "invisible hand" would make of everyone's selfish decisions a tapestry that benefits us all. We have not only the permission but also the responsibility to look only after our own self-interest.

This is a breathtaking supposition! Against the moral basis of virtually every world religion, selfishness becomes the goal. To be sure, it's been conclusively demonstrated that this assumption has overwhelming power to increase economic production. But do we want to enshrine selfishness as a primary value by which we live?

But we have. Self-interest has become so basic that we can hardly think outside it....

Today, pop psychology counsels us that self-interest is the necessary ground of good relationships. Only by "looking after number one," it argues, can we relate mutually to each other. I sometimes catch myself defending my work with poor people by pointing out how much I get out of it. That's true, of course, but why do I need to claim self-interest? Why is love or justice not an adequate excuse?

Yet how many of us really believe that selfishness is a virtue, or that the world really works better if we look only to our own best interest?

While Adam Smith's pursuit of self-interest may or may not make good economics, it shares no common ground with biblical ethics, which emphasize love, community, and justice for the poor.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:37 AM

The Profit Motive

What of the second assumption, that within the capitalist system the purpose of economic activity is profit? Monetary return becomes the guiding motive for economic activity: how much advertising to buy, how many widgets to make, whether to open a branch in Peoria, or whether to downsize a corporation.

But note how profit is defined. It does not include the wages of workers, from entry level positions to managers. Wages are paid before profit is calculated. The guiding principle for all economic activity, then, is to maximize returns for the "investors" (those who are wealthy enough to have assets to invest). Note that only those who put money into the system are considered investors; workers do not usually "invest" by working.

The difference between investing and gambling (that is, trying to get immense returns for minimal money) is not always clear, at least in the modern stock market. Gambling, of course, did not originate in capitalism; nor did Adam Smith encourage people to profit unfairly. But the concepts of capitalism have given a certain unconscious legitimacy to these attempts at easy money.

There is a powerful perception today that "getting something for nothing" is really the way the world works. What one receives has little to do with the sweat equity one puts in but rather with wealth and the right kind of "luck." This has seeped into every area of our society.

What Is the Purpose of Work?

Some workers have always received more than others for an hour of work time. To question this is a societal taboo. But in recent decades, the discrepancies have multiplied. Top athletes, entertainment stars, and CEOs are obvious examples. Yet in many instances, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals receive much more than can be attributed to their "work." Bill Gates's amassing a fortune of well over $10 billion in twenty-five years is seen as a positive example of American ingenuity and success rather than a warning of a horribly warped system.

This focus on profit, on earning money, has mushroomed beyond the sphere of economics to become central to our understanding of life itself. The purpose of work is to make money.

Activities that are not financially remunerative, even those essential to societal well-being, are not valued. Is teaching the next generation less important than curing their physical ills? In our society, high salaries indicate that the work of a physician has more prestige and value than that of an elementary-school teacher. In Finland, on the other hand, the two earn approximately the same and carry equal status. In our society, the care of children at home—probably the most important thing we do for our future as a society—has no monetary value and is hardly considered a productive way to spend one's life.

The biblical view, of course, is that money is only a minor part of the purpose of work. We work to provide for the basic needs of our families and ourselves. But we also work out of love for others, to express our creativity, to be fulfilled, to create a better environment for our community, and to make a more just world. (Many people are reduced to working for money in an economic system that offers them nothing more, but that is clearly a violation of the biblical order.)...

The Bible judges the acquisition of surplus wealth to be inordinately dangerous to one's soul. Jesus was explicit about the pitfalls of wealth. Yet within capitalism, the primary purpose of the individual is the acquisition of surplus wealth. The societal desperation resulting from hoarded wealth is everywhere obvious. Yet our society (including the church) continues to exalt the accumulation of vast wealth.

What began as an innocuous economic principle has quietly seeped into our consciousness to reshape our underlying assumptions about the purpose of work, the goal of creativity, and the nature of humanity. That people within a capitalist system are oriented toward money is not a coincidence—it is a fundamental.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:38 AM

Money as a Measuring Rod

The third assumption argues that everything must have a price, and that money is the measuring rod of value.

The mechanism used to allocate resources in the free-enterprise system is price. The question, in deciding whether to buy a new machine or hire new workers, is, "Which costs less?" To determine how much people value something, the statistician asks how much they would pay. In my own profession, medicine, cost-benefit economic analysis has become a primary way to choose among treatment options—even though it requires giving a dollar value to human life.

When the assumption that everything has a price filters into our value system, we find we must struggle to hang onto values that have no price tag. Building community (to say nothing of building the reign of God) has no dollar value, so the medical students I talk to have no foundation for thinking about a career working with the poor.

In such a system, the only way to mobilize social forces against poverty is to show how much money society would save by investing in poor neighborhoods, alternatives to prison, and preventative medical care. In other words, by a cost-benefit analysis of poverty.

Again, few of us believe that everything has a price tag. We know there is no way to calculate the value of having a family or doing meaningful work. Yet if we act on that obvious reality, we are considered hopeless idealists....

Choosing Injustice

Samuelson's fourth assumption states that the distribution of goods and services is determined by the distribution of private wealth. Those who have more money get more things.

This assumption is so deeply embedded in our value system that it's hard to even argue. If I ask, for instance, why, when compared with suburban schools, schools in poor areas are in physical disrepair, poorly supplied and equipped, and have low compensation for their teachers, the response is, "Well, the people in the city can't afford anything better."

Or if I ask, "Why do the children come to school hungry?" I hear back, "Well, their parents can't afford to give them anything for breakfast." Even if we don't like the responses, most of us will nod our head as if we had been given an "answer." But we haven't. We've only been given a statement of values.

An essential principle of the free-market system, then, is actually a formulation of injustice. The rich get whatever they want; the poor get nothing.

Again, few of us really believe that the world should operate this way. Some of us might agree to distribute luxuries according to wealth, but does anyone believe that food, shelter, basic education, healthcare, or other necessities should be distributed according to private wealth? Nonetheless, we have established a society in which even those necessities are meted out mostly on the basis of how much money people have.

It is important to understand that we have chosen this. Neither modern capitalism nor economic imperative requires that necessities be distributed according to wealth. Today's "capitalistic" economic systems can easily be modified through taxation and wealth-transfer programs, such as Social Security, to provide necessities for all.

Yet belief in the religion of capitalism is so deeply embedded in us that we have even, in the last few years, taken steps to dismantle the few societal mechanisms for providing necessities to those who—for one reason or another—do not possess private wealth. There seems to be an almost religious zeal for ensuring that nothing is left to the sentimentality of those who would make the basic societal needs available to all.

We have, in practice, accepted the basic injustice of the world as at least inevitable, if not proper. We seem incapable of the outrage of the prophets. We have lost our capacity for protest, our capacity to see and hold up alternatives.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:38 AM

The Sacredness of Private Property

This brings us to Samuelson's fifth and final assumption: Wealth is primarily private property that the owner can dispose of as he or she wishes.

Nothing is more deeply established in our economic system, more enshrined in popular consciousness, than the sacredness of "private property." Capitalism, of course, is dependent on the notion that the wealth a person amasses belongs to him or her. Without "private property," one could not have a capitalist system, since people cannot invest what they do not own.

Yet this value has gone far deeper than our ownership of things. To take my profession, physicians no longer feel much responsibility to society, even though society invests heavily in the education of physicians. (The cost to society to educate one doctor is over $1 million.) Instead, they view their degrees as "theirs" and believe they are free to use them as they will.

The assumption of "private property," nestled into our very being, has eroded our consciousness of the ties that link us to family, community, nation, and world. My things, my education, my abilities, my ideas—they all belong to me. My possessions and I become an island, separated from everyone else's islands.

It is common to hear that older people or younger couples without children have joined forces to vote down taxes for education in their community. The money belongs to them, and they have the legal right to vote against educating the future generations. But do we want to grant anyone the moral right to secede from the community?

The Native American concept that no one owns the land is well known. That most of us have difficulty even imagining life under such a concept—despite the obvious ravages to the environment under private ownership—is a sign of how deeply we have accepted the notion of "private property."...

Another Way

Western society hungers for values deeper than those it has. Even people who do not call themselves spiritual sense that something is desperately askew.

At a moral level, they realize that it isn't right for homeless families to walk the streets of the richest nation on earth. They know that global warming is dangerous and destructive. They acknowledge that people have a responsibility to one another....

The function of religion in the human community should be to call forth our best and highest selves. As an economic system, capitalism may or may not serve us well. As a religion, especially an unnamed one, it is disastrous.

We must recognize where we are. We must find in our spirits the willingness to follow another way. We must share what we have found.

David Hilfiker works as a physician with the inner-city poor as part of a small Christian community. In the preceding viewpoint Hilfiker examines the underlying assumptions of capitalism, arguing that such notions are morally questionable and ultimately harmful to society. In his opinion, capitalism as it is currently practiced promotes selfishness, undermines the dignity of work, and defines profit and wealth as the fundamental goal of human endeavors. Spiritual ethics, which emphasize sharing, community, and justice for the poor, would provide better guidance and create a truly healthy society, Hilfiker concludes.

Today, we have trouble understanding service, sharing, justice, and equality ... because, over the last generation, we've unwittingly transformed capitalism into a religion....

The assumptions underlying capitalism have become essential metaphors in our deepest thinking about our society and ourselves. Unawares, we've allowed the language of capitalism to shape our basic assumptions about our lives—not only economic, but also social, political, and spiritual.

An older edition of the basic college textbook Economics, authored by Paul Samuelson, names the five underlying assumptions of capitalism.

Source Citation:Hilfiker, David. "Capitalism Is Not Always Beneficial." Opposing Viewpoints: American Values. Ed. Mary E. Williams. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Career Education Corp. 24 Aug. 2008

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:40 AM

HOOOLLLLY Smokes!! That's alot longer than it looked.....sorry everybody.

Oldcougar  (Level: 228.6 - Posts: 1935)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 4:14 AM

But worth reading, thanks

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 10:55 AM

Thanks Randy. Maybe it would've generated more discussion if I just provided a link!! I thought it was interesting.......

Lodi  (Level: 106.0 - Posts: 2144)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 10:57 AM

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 10:59 AM

Seriously Lodi, I wish this could've just gone into an active group Lodi, but there aren't any!!!!

Lodi  (Level: 106.0 - Posts: 2144)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 11:02 AM

There's a paper crafters group that's probably itching for some posts.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 11:12 AM

LOL, I'll check it out. There were a few groups up and running for awhile.....I thought it was fun.

Asdibbens  (Level: 159.4 - Posts: 423)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 11:28 AM

If you have the link, please post it. It was well written and I would like to pass it along to a friend who is tired of defending many of these very points against his fellow Christians. I think it might be something to give him a little support.


Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 12:11 PM

Thanks Jim! I haven't found this exact version available on the internet, I actually found this at the digital library at my college and copy and pasted it, I will see if I can find it on the internet later. However, this author has something very similar posted on his own website, which contains many of the same points:

He sounds like a neat guy. A physician trained (I think) at Yale who went to work for a much reduced salary among the poor.

Asdibbens  (Level: 159.4 - Posts: 423)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 12:56 PM

Thanks! A very interesting person indeed.

Asdibbens  (Level: 159.4 - Posts: 423)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 1:08 PM

The link is perfect. It has an extra section near the end that encapsulates his arguments and suggests alternative aligned closer to religious and moral concepts .

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:37 PM

The alternative is the most important part!! Thanks for asking Jim!

Allena  (Level: 266.4 - Posts: 1409)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 3:57 PM

The issue that surrounds the article is market value. Right, even labor in some places has a value. Of course, it is zero when you volunteer, a rather important staple of life. In addition, it is zero when you build something no one wants. When the government creates something no one wants, the tax payers still pay. Hence, fascism and socialism do not work. Moreover, the folks who down grade capitalism assume no safety net, no anti-trust laws and most significantly, no charities.

The article is a good place to start. Capitalism is why West Germany now provides charity for East Germany, a failure of socialism. We seem to want to revisit that experiment, expecting a different result.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 6:56 PM

Jim (Allena), I would appreciate it if you would explain to me why you think this fellow, at least in one of the two articles listed, is advocating socialism? My reading has him saying something far different......I could be wrong, I often am, and would appreciate your help here. Thanks!

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 6:58 PM

BTW, does it have something to do with that paragraph regarding social security??

Collioure  (Level: 113.7 - Posts: 9952)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 8:06 PM

Jeremy, I'm sorry, but I'm too tired to read all that.

Capitalism isn't perfect. The US and other countries of the western world especially practice modified forms of it. However, like our system of government experience tells us there isn't a better system on Earth.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 8:28 PM

Andy, haven't heard from you in awhile. I didn't expect everybody to read it, I just wanted to hear feedback from Christians on the issue.

I don't disagree with you that it's the best economic system, and I'm not sure this author disagrees with you either, though he might. My reading of this article, and honestly I haven't done a good reading of it in a few months, just refreshing and skimming before posting, but my memory says that this article has to do with people "internalizing" the non-christian values of Capitalism. I assume I read it's not capitalism that is the enemy but the internalizing of it's values. If people "internalized" a different moral code, for this author the Judeo-Christian ethic then.......there would be more justice in the world?
Maybe this guy is a socialist, I don't know, but I don't think he's claiming capitalism is the enemy per se (based off of what my memory says- it's been awhile).

Regarding your comment, "However, like our system of government experience tells us there isn't a better system on Earth". I can think of another system of government....untried that I would love to give a go someday.

Jank0614  (Level: 67.1 - Posts: 4593)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 8:38 PM

Jeremy, he said "on earth." If the system you like hasn't been tried, it's not one "on earth" yet, and therefore hasn't been tried to find out if it works.

It's dangerous and expensive to just mess around and try out a new form of government and economy. It's hard enough with the ones that exist with people who constantly attack from within and without.

Americans are notorious for not believing in "if it's not broken, don't fix it." We're always tinkering. If something doesn't stop the experiment, there may be no US to experiment on any more.

A few years ago, some brilliant person who had never taught a day in their life, wrote a dissertation that the "open room" concept would be much better atmosphere for students to learn.

Some idiots decided to experiment and dumped literally millions of $$$ to take the top couple of feet of wall down in school rooms - opening up the rooms.

Of course, nobody ever bothered to ask a teacher about it - any teacher on earth could have explained what an ignorant concept this was.

Sure enough, that which you know instinctively would happen, happened. It was pandemonium and nobody learned anything for all the noises bleeding into each of the rooms from the others.

Sure enough, it was five years till MILLIONS of $$$$ were dumped into the system to replace that top couple of feet of wall. And of course it cost MUCH more to put it back than to take it out.

Experimenting with people's lives and money without trying it on a tiny scale to see if it works is just stupid. I said it. Stupid. Expensive and stupid.

Socialist health care was tried in Massachusetts - which is a relatively rich state. It has failed miserably.

So let's spread it to the other 49 states. I'm sure it will turn out differently. How foolish is that? When you experiment and fail, who in their right mind would want to spread a system which has already been proved a catastrophic failure?

Liberals and progressives.

Smokydevil  (Level: 163.0 - Posts: 5381)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 10:21 PM

"Jeremy, he said "on earth." If the system you like hasn't been tried, it's not one "on earth" yet, and therefore hasn't been tried to find out if it works."

Actually Janice, something is "on earth" if it is inside someone's head, it exists, and it has been tried on some level. This form of government has been tried on a small scale amongst Christians. There was a time when democracy was just an idea, I'm glad we never tried it.....oh the chaos!! The horror, if we had....

The rest of your post has to do with socialism, health care, and liberals, which has nothing to do with anything I've said or the posted essay (as far as I know) so I'll leave that for the other eight million threads where the conservatives bring it up. Thanks.

Foogs  (Level: 280.1 - Posts: 848)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 10:28 PM

I had a professor who once said, "Democracy is a good idea in
theory, but no one has really tried it yet." Unfortunately I was
too young to understand.

I want to know about this alternative to capitalism.

Jank0614  (Level: 67.1 - Posts: 4593)
Tue, 15th Sep '09 10:39 PM

Jeremy - the rest of my post had to do with trying something without enough questioning or testing - just throwing money into it without knowing what you're doing. They were valid points.

Oogie54  (Level: 209.5 - Posts: 1120)
Wed, 16th Sep '09 10:35 AM

Jeremy, the author has valid essential points, the pursuit of an ideal like "the American Dream"- epitomizing capitalism- does in effect become a dogma of sorts, and internalized, takes on the same characteristics as religion. This really points to the weak link in any social/political system, the human one. An organization is only the sum of it's parts and despite any profession of altruistic aims on the part of it's leadership greed and corruption eventually rule.

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